I. Planning Your Garden
The first step to a great garden begins with proper planning and research. Start your planning early enough to give yourself time to be ready to plant right after the final frost of the year. You must first plan where you want to put your garden and what you want to grow in it.
When deciding where you want to set up your garden, you must first measure the amount of sun your garden spot will receive during the day.
- If your chosen spot gets six hours of sun or more per day, it is considered a Full Sun spot.
- If your chosen spot gets less than six hours of sun each day, it is considered a Partial Sun or Partial Shade spot.
- If your chosen spot gets less than three hours of sun per day, it is considered a Shady spot. However, if the spot gets three hours of afternoon sun rather than three hours of morning sun, it should be considered a Partial Sun spot.
After you have measured the amount of sun your chosen garden spot gets each day, you need to decide what kind of plants you want to grow.
- Most vegetables require Full Sun.
- Most roses require Full Sun.
- Sunflowers and Zinnias require Full Sun.
- Hostas require full shade.
- Hydrangeas require mostly shady areas with one to two hours of sun per day.
A visit to your local garden shop will give you an idea about the amount of sun the plants you want to grow will require. Check the back of seed packets and stickers in the potted plants for more information. If your main intent is to grow roses or vegetables, you will need to choose your garden spot according to the sun requirements of those plants. Although there are varieties that have been developed to thrive in the shade, most roses planted in shade are more prone to disease and do not grow as well or flower as abundantly as roses grown in full sun. Tomatoes grown in shade do not grow well and put on very little fruit. Strawberries grown in shade put on very little fruit and the fruit they produce tend to be sour instead of sweet.
You will also need to research the watering requirements of the plants you wish to grow. When you visit your garden shop, also check to see the watering needs of the plants you want to grow. Lavenders, for example, like dry or well-drained soil and Hydrangeas like lots of water. You would not want to plant Lavenders and Hydrangeas close to each other because they have quite different water requirements.
Careful planning and research will ensure that the plants you want to grow in your garden have the best chance of success and will offer you the greatest reward for your time and effort.
II. Preparation of Your Garden Spot
The only phase of gardening that can truly be called hard work is the preparation of your garden spot. First of all, the soil must be freed of weeds and grass. It must also be raked and tilled properly. You will also need to amend the soil to provide ample nutrients for the plants you want to grow. Although this phase of gardening can be arduous, when done properly, it will make your entire gardening experience more successful. So don’t skimp on the preparation phase. Give your new garden the very best start possible.
Step One: Remove All Grass and Weeds from the Spot
If your garden spot is covered with grass, you can dig up all the grass and use the sod to patch bare spots in your lawn. Alternatively, the sod can be turned upside down on a separate piece of ground and made into a compost heap. You may also choose to use a chemical herbicide which is a weed and grass killer. It is a good idea to use herbicides at least one month before you plan to plant in order to give the chemicals time to do their work.
In the meantime, you may see some grass and weeds coming back in a couple of weeks after the first application of the herbicide in which case you will need a second application. Check the instructions on the label carefully on all chemical grass and weed killers for advice on how soon to begin planting after the chemical is applied. As a general rule, you can begin tilling the soil once all the weeds and grass have turned brown and withered.
Step Two: Rake and Till the Soil, Removing Stones and Breaking Up Large Clods of Earth
This is especially important if you are planning to plant seeds. Seeds need to be planted in smooth soil in order to germinate successfully. You can use a power tiller for best results. Especially if you are preparing a large garden spot, this should be the preferred method. If you have a smaller garden spot, there are a number of garden tools available to help you turn the soil, rake it and even it out. The soil should be turned and loosened to a depth of about 12 inches in order to give the root systems of your new plants room to spread and grow.
Step Three: Add Amendments to the Soil
Compost is the very best amendment you can add to the soil. Compost is a combination of leaves, plants, twigs and other organic matter that has been left to decompose into a rich fertilizer. Compost can be purchased by the bag at most garden centers. You may also be able to purchase it in bulk through your City’s parks department.
The amount of compost you need to add will vary according to your soil type. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, you will need to mix equal parts of garden soil with equal parts of compost. If your soil is low on clay and sand, you can use less compost. There is no need to worry about exact measurements. You can always add more compost around your mature plants later on if your soil’s clay or sand content is too heavy. Many gardeners fill their garden spots with straight compost which is a technique endorsed by many professionals.
Along with the compost, it is a good idea to add some composted manure to your garden soil. Composted manure is also available at most garden centers. It is important to only use composted manure in your garden spot. Manure that has not been composted is too strong and will burn tender shoots and young plants.
Other amendments that will benefit heavy clay soil are green sand and dried molasses. These products help break up the heavy clay allowing water to drain and oxygen to reach the roots of your plants. For very sandy soil, you will want to consider either adding extra compost or top soil to the mix.
III. Planting Your Flowers and Vegetables
Now you are ready to start planting. For best results, put down on paper how you would like your garden to look like. Simply sketch out a rough idea of where you would like each plant to go in your garden spot. You may choose to plant a mass of pink Impatiens around the edge of your garden with end sections consisting of white Impatiens. Or you may choose to mix pink and white Impatiens with the larger plants in your garden. A garden should be a personal expression of your taste and artistic talents so you will want to lay out your plants carefully.
You will also want to take into account mature sizes of your plants when planting. For example, Zinnias will grow to a mature height of three to four feet. They should be planted toward the back of your garden spot so as not to hide or cover smaller plants. Larger plants like Sunflowers would go behind the Zinnias. Smaller plants like Day Lilies would go in front.
When planting vegetables, plant them in well-spaced rows that allow you to walk between them for weeding and harvesting. Allow space for trellis supports for beans and cages for tomatoes. Vining plants like green beans and black-eyed peas produce better when provided with trellis supports. Tomatoes produce better when provided with cages that allow the tomato plants to grow upward keeping the fruits off the ground.
When planting seeds, always read the instructions on the seed packet for depth and spacing. Most seeds should be planted less than ¼ inch below the surface and should be sprinkled out in a solid line. Planting seeds closely ensures that there will not be too much space between plants. If all the seeds sprout or the sprouts are too close together, the seedlings can be thinned.
Thinning allows the plants plenty of growing space so that they can get the necessary moisture, nutrients, light, etc., required for plant growth without having to compete with other seedlings. Thinning seedlings also helps improve the air circulation around them.
The seeds will need to be watered every day until they sprout and then until the sprouts are at least four inches tall. If the weather is windy or very dry, you should water your seeds once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Hand water the seed carefully using a shower or sprinkler attachment on your hose. Water until the area is wet but with no standing water.
Planting Potted Plants
Read the instruction stickers on potted plants for spacing requirements. The instructions will take into account the mature size of the plant. Dig a hole roughly twice as wide as the plant. The depth of the hole should allow the plant to sit with the top of the soil in line with the top of the soil around the plant.
Remove the plant from the pot along with all the soil in the pot. If the roots of the plant are showing on the outside of the soil, gently tease the roots away from the soil with your fingers. This will help them grow out into the garden soil quicker.
Place the plant into the hole and gently press the dirt around it beginning at the bottom and working up to the top. Work the soil around the entire plant as evenly as possible to keep air bubbles from forming around the root ball of the plant.
Your potted plants will need to be watered every day for at least the first week using the same instructions as for seeds. Check the instructions on seed packets and potted plant containers for watering instructions for mature plants.
If you happen to have a late spring frost after you have planted your seeds or potted plants, cover your garden with newspapers the night the frost is expected to protect the young plants and seeds from freezing. Anchor the newspapers securely to make sure they stay on all night long and then remove them the next morning.
Once your plants have reached a height of six inches, you may wish to put down some mulch. Mulch is very beneficial for your garden. It discourages insects and holds moisture in. Mulch protects the soil from the sun which can leach vital nutrients and salts from it. It also protects the soil from heavy rains which can damage the soil structure and the root systems of your plants. Also, mulch decomposes back into the soil enriching your garden
That’s it. You are done with all the hard work. If you have planned carefully, prepared well and planted with care, you are on your way to enjoying a rewarding garden.
IV. Garden Maintenance
If done consistently, maintaining your garden is a simple and easy work. By spending a couple of hours a week with your garden, it will stay well maintained and healthy.
Feed Your Young Plants
Your young garden needs nutrients in order to grow healthy and strong. You should fertilize your plants once a week with a liquid, water-soluble fertilizer once they have reached a height of about six inches. Before the young plants reach six inches, fertilize once every two weeks.
When your plants begin blooming, stop fertilizing. After your flowering plants have bloomed, you can begin fertilizing once a week again until they bloom again. Once your vegetables have bloomed or started to put on fruit, you will not need to fertilize for the rest of the season.
Keep the Weeds at Bay
Keep a close watch on the weeds so they will never overrun your garden. Make a habit of going out to visit your garden spot every day or two and spending a few minutes pulling out any weeds that may have sprouted. Weeds use up water and nutrients that your flowers and vegetables need to grow healthy.
Keep Your Plants Well Watered But Not Overwatered
As a general rule, plants need a minimum of one inch of water per week to survive. In extremely hot or windy conditions they will need more than one inch of water per week in order to bloom or produce fruit and vegetables.
A good rule of thumb is to water your garden only when the soil is dry but not parched. To test your soil to see if it needs water, stick your finger into the soil about one inch. If the soil at the bottom is dry, your garden needs water. Water until the soil is wet but do not water until water puddles form.
Use a sprinkler or shower attachment on your hose. Watering without a sprinkler or shower attachment will disturb the soil around the roots of tender plants and will cause the water to run off the garden rather than soaking in slowly. It is preferable to give your plants a deep watering once a week rather than small shallow watering several times a week.
Deadhead Your Flowers for More Blooms
Once your flowers have bloomed, snip the spent blooms off. This will encourage your repeat flowering plants to bloom again and will preserve energy the plant needs to survive for the rest of the season. Leaving spent blooms on the plant causes the plant to go into its reproduction mode producing seeds or extended root systems. This takes vital energy from your plants that they need to produce new blooms.
Deadheading spent blooms from plants that will not bloom a second time is also a good idea in order to maintain your garden plan. Spent blossoms often produce seeds that will seed in your garden disturbing your mature plants. Of course, it is often desirable to let plants reseed themselves, especially if you have a large garden spot. If you want your plants to reseed themselves, just leave the spent blooms on until the end of the season. Mother Nature will do her job with no further help from you.
Use Insecticides Sparingly
At some point in the year, insects are going to be a problem for your garden. So it is best to be prepared for it.
For those of you growing large vegetable gardens, row covers may be the best defense against insects while the plants are still young. Row covers are made from transparent or semi-transparent materials like fabric or plastic sheeting as a protective covering to block insects; yet they allow sunlight and air to penetrate to the plants. Row covers are also an excellent protection from late spring frosts and good for using on new flowering plants in the early spring before the plants begin to flower.
There are a variety of insecticides available on the market for both flower and vegetable gardens. Each gardener must decide whether they will use chemical insecticides or only organic insecticides. There are gardening experts who endorse the use of both. Whatever you decide to use in your garden, remember to use all insecticides sparingly and only when insects are present, never as a preventative measure. Also keep in mind that there are many beneficial insects for your garden that are harmed by the overuse of insecticides. Beneficial insects provide organic pest control by preying on insect pests that are harmful to your garden.